Virgin Media Cuts Off Users In Data Clean-Up


Updating its customer database gave Virgin Media some trouble with its Internet customers

Admin work at Virgin Media has left some of its broadband customers without service during the last few days, but the company denies reports that it has “deleted customer records by mistake”.

Virgin Media was created from the merger of various cable Internet providers including NTL and Telewest, and is rolling out fast broadband to large parts of the country, in competition with BT. However, in the last week or so, several customers have experienced difficulties with their connections, and it has been reported that this was due to the company freezing out old hardware or accidentally deleting customer records.

Network purge, not data deletion

“We didn’t delete any customer details,” said a Virgin Media spokesman, explaining that the company has been merging and cleaning up its customer databases, and part of this process involved reconciling the equipment on the network with the user accounts.

On ADSL broadband provided by BT OpenReach and its partners, every user has a separate connection to the exchange; cable Internet puts all its users on the same local area network (LAN), and all the MAC and IP addresses are managed by network protocols like DHCP, just as they are on an office network.

While merging its databases, Virgin found many modems on its network, with network addresses that did not match customer records, usually because the records were out of date. These were “purged” in a one-time “cleansing” operation, which disconnected from the Internet, and presented the user with a “walled garden” welcome screen which would invite them to phone Virgin to update their details and get reinstated.

Legitimate customers could get in touch to latch the modem back onto the system,” said the spokesman. “The process worked flawlessly since February.”

The process affected several thousand of the systems on the Virgin network, and the company has been purged them a few hundred at a time with no problem since February, until it hit trouble late last month, the spokesman said. At that point, a network problem caused a delay in reactivation, and call centre staff unprepared for the issue made the situation worse, by telling users to wait for a new modem to be delivered.

All the customers affected are back on line now, and the network purge has resumed, the spokesman said.

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